I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time…I felt awkward after our first miscarriage because I knew people knew about it, or at least our Facebook friends, but they didn’t really know what to say. Which I totally get. No one teaches you what to say when someone miscarries, and it’s weird to blurt out “Let’s talk about my miscarriage!” even though it’s the elephant in the room. Some of the conversations I had reminded me of that speech class in high school or college where there was that one kid who was so nervous up there it made you nervous…and I just kept thinking “We can do better for women who are going through this.”
But how do you talk about it without sounding all judgy pants? Honestly I have no idea…I sort of like the judgy pants, and so the best I could do was to reach out to some friends and broaden the conversation. After our first miscarriage there were a ton of people who shared their stories of loss with us. I messaged some of them, and 9 wrote back. I asked what people in their lives said or did that was most or least helpful to them after their losses. I was going to edit and summarize, but I think their words are powerful, and a powerful part of a conversation that can help normalize miscarriage and baby loss. I edited out a few identifying details, but otherwise these are their words, organized around a few themes that showed up.
First, the most helpful…
Acknowledge that it happened and ask about it, and if you’ve been through it, share your story
- I had many situations where I wasn’t sure if someone had heard, but they didn’t bring it up, so I had to awkwardly try to work it into the conversation, and it turned out that they did know. Even a quick “I’m sorry; how far along were you; my friend/cousin/mom/wife/self went through that, I know it’s really hard” etc. would have been MUCH preferable to tiptoeing around the subject.”
- The things that helped me the most were the people who just said they were sorry and left it at that. The ones who gave me flowers, let me cry and just hung out with me like they always had.
- I think that the most helpful thing anyone did was just listen. I was a person that needed to talk about it and being able to feel like I had someone to listen, that truly wanted to know how I was feeling, was most beneficial for me.
- The best thing to do is to say that you love me and you hurt with me and then be quiet, but be there/don’t disappear because you don’t know what to say or do. Sometimes just being there, being silent, is the best thing someone can do.
- If it’s public and the parents of the loss are open in talking about it — then acknowledge it and honor it. Remember the loss is most likely not going to heal right away, but will continue to be an on-going grieving process, even if the couple has successful pregnancies later. And if it’s awkward to talk about it directly, send one of these cards.
- The most helpful was people telling me they had gone through it, and it was hard.
- The most helpful for me were all the people who shared stories of people they knew or that they themselves had been through it. It made me feel much less alone and much less worried that there was something massively wrong with me, and that I would never be able to have a kid.
Be sensitive about baby announcements, showers, etc.
- It felt like a ton of our friends and family announced they were pregnant the months following our miscarriage. I appreciated the friends who told me personally instead of awkwardly not wanting to tell us. Finding out second hand or after everyone doesn’t make it easier. I was happy for them even though it made me question why there pregnancy stuck and ours did not.
- I asked friends to tell me personally about baby news, instead of in public in case I might cry or have some other sort of emotional reaction. It was helpful to know ahead of time and not be blindsided by it.
- I didn’t want to go to any baby showers and those friends could understand why. It took until I had a healthy pregnancy to feel confident enough to be around moms and mommy places.
Do whatever you’d normally do after someone experiences a loss
- Family brought a few meals and my sisters-in-law brought takeout from one of my favorite places. I had a group of friends that I had met online and they got together and sent flowers. Instead of sending individual cards, they made a little photo book of their thoughts for me and sent that.
- My friends made little blankets for me, which they called “hugs.” It was very nice that they acknowledged that it was a big deal and commemorated it for me.
- A couple of people sent cards which were greatly appreciated. Someone sent me flowers which was also really nice because it let me know they understood how this was a huge deal for me.
- (Bridget) I think about the elementary staff at my school after our second miscarriage. The day I returned, a few of the teachers were in the hallway when I walked in. One gave me a hug and said she’d been through it, another put her arm around me and walked down the hall, and a third let me ugly cry in her doorway while she said “I’m so sorry.” The next day flowers showed up on my desk anonymously, and those small gestures meant the world to me.
And, the least helpful…
Trite, cliche words of comfort
- I would definitely say I was angry enough that the comforting words involving, “part of God’s plan” did not comfort me at all. I understand it now but at the time I didn’t want to hear that. I didn’t want to hear that there was obviously something wrong with the baby or that there was nothing I could have done differently.
- Others said it was God’s will, and I didn’t like that either
- Things like, “Your baby was too precious for earth” or “God needed another angel” in particular were not comforting and were more upsetting than anything else.
Downplaying the loss…and the “at leasts”
- I had a family member send a card that said “I’m sorry about your disappointment” like I had been turned down for a job instead of losing a baby.
- Saying things like this did not help-Well at least you can get pregnant…at least you have a child already…the worst was “just get over it.”
- Non helpful thoughts (of which there were many) 1 in 4 first pregnancies result in miscarriage. This is normal for first pregnancies so don’t worry, you will probably be fine next time. This happens to a lot of women. – sentiments that tried to make what had happened seem like not a big deal when it was earth shattering. Or things people would say that made our daughter feel like she wasn’t a real person because she only made it to three months.
- People who made me feel like it wasn’t a big deal. I used to think maybe it wouldn’t be–that it as just a ball of cells or an embryo and I wouldn’t be that said if I lost it. But for me, and everyone else I’ve talked to, that’s not true. We lost our babies.
When I think about it now, I think a good rule of thumb is this–do whatever you’d do after any other loss. If someone lost a parent, you’d send flowers or a card, and ask them how they are. You’d never tell someone who lost a spouse “At least you can get another one” or “It’s all God’s will!” You’d give them a hug, listen to them ugly cry, throw a casserole in their freezer, and just be there.